British army no longer tier-one level fighting force, says US general

Defence and security Policy & Politics

Defence secretary Ben Wallace has been told by a senior US general that the British army is no longer considered a top level fighting force.

Decades of cuts to army spending – while huge investments have been made to air and naval defence – has resulted in Britain’s war fighting capacity being seriously reduced.

UK defence sources revealed the private conversation between Wallace and the US general who told the defence secretary: “You haven’t got a tier one [army] – it’s barely tier two.”

Wallace was told the British army’s decline must be reversed faster than planned given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US general defence said the UK’s defence budget should be increased by at least £3 billion per year. Also, the government must abandon its plans to further reduce the size of the army, according to Sky News.

Bottom line… it’s an entire service unable to protect the UK and our allies for a decade,” a defence source told Sky News.

Wallace conceded “we have hollowed out and underfunded” the army since 2010 when challenged by shadow defence secretary John Healey.

Healey told the Commons: “When Labour left government in 2010, the British army stood at over 100,000 full-time troops and we were spending 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence.”

Since 2010, the army has lost a quarter of its troops, now numbering 76,000 – less than half its 1990 size and the smallest it has been for more than 200 years.

Chair of the defence select committee Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood told Sky News “the army is in a dire state”.

The  Commons defence select committee scrutinises the spending, administration and policy of the Ministry of Defence. Former soldier Ellwood said the UK’s three main components to land warfare – main battle tank, armoured fighting vehicle and reconnaissance vehicle – are outdated.

Ellwood said the UK’s Challenger 2, Warrior and Scimitar vehicles “are all over 20, 30 or 50 years old, without any upgrades”.

“I’m pleased that voices are now coming through to say this is unacceptable,” continued Ellwood. “We have whittled down our capability. We had 900 tanks a couple of decades ago. We are no looking at going down to 148.

“As you have seen in Ukraine, tanks are still required on the modern battlefield.”

Ellwood referred to the US general’s remarks in the Commons. He said they tallied with the defence select committee’s won findings that the war in Ukraine has “exposed serious shortfalls in the war-fighting capability of the British army”.

Defence minister James Heappey said both Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt acknowledge the army is in “urgent need” of increased spending and signalled this will be announced in the Spring budget.

“Serial under-investment in the Army over decades has led to the point where the Army is in need of urgent recapitalisation,” said Heapey. “The Chancellor and the Prime Minister get that and there is a budget coming.”

A review of the UK’s defence spending is due to be published on Mach 7, ahead of the budget.

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